Weeknote: 6 to 10 April 2020

Pile of torn-up sticky notes on wooden table in front of houseplants

Slowing the pace a little after a couple of full-on weeks where several of our teams delivered new services, and I shuttled virtually between them to help make sure we would deliver a joined-up user experience.

On Monday evening, while I was on a call about another new service in the pipeline, someone in my household used the family WhatsApp group to report that they had a mild fever. They were better by the next morning, but that was enough to trigger 14 days of precautionary self-isolation for the rest of us. Given what everyone else is already going through, this doesn’t feel like a great sacrifice. Friends and neighbours have been very kind in dropping off shopping for us.


I spent time on Tuesday writing up recommendations from last week’s conversations about services for people who have, or suspect they have, coronavirus symptoms.

We’ve launched a series of new services, and the teams responsible can be proud of them all. Despite the urgency, these services have been informed by primary user research, and designed for near-universal adoption. They are mobile-first, digitally accessible, with simple content and tested for usability. They’re hosted on the NHS.UK domain, which is free to browse on all major UK mobile networks.

I think this is consistent with our role as a national NHS organisation. While others may be justified in developing things that are more sophisticated for certain groups of users, our design principles dictate that we try to meet the needs of as many people as possible.

We know from past launches that whenever we put a new national service into the world, we benefit immediately from the gift of feedback – in torrents – from people who care about the NHS and want to help make things better. Now the teams are listening to that feedback, and collaborating to identify opportunities to improve findability, optimise user journeys, and ensure that data can be matched across multiple sources.

This is end-to-end, front-to-back service design at system scale in a fast-changing situation. It involves fewer big artefacts, more conversations curated. Less grand vision, more ideas planted with teams. Fewer boxes and arrows, more shared Slack channels. Success is when someone on any of the teams takes the initiative, unprompted, to make something work just a little bit better for users.


I took most of Wednesday and Thursday off. We’d originally planned to be on holiday visiting parents and grandparents this week. Instead we had a Skype with Caroline’s mum, and a regular weekly Zoom call with my side of the family.

I did join the Thursday afternoon design huddle, where several of the team showed the work they’d done, including Maddie’s work on new Health at Home page for the NHS website, pulled together rapidly using the NHS.UK Frontend. Remember, the NHS is still here for you whether you need help for a coronavirus-related problem or for anything else.


As we stepped out into the front garden last night to applaud those on the NHS frontline, social care staff, and other key workers, it struck me that while we’re all in this together, the timing with which people experience the peak will be strangely staggered.

Some people play their part in the preparations, putting resources in place, hoping they have done enough.

Some will play their part at the point of need, when demand for direct care peaks, looking after sick patients and supporting families kept agonisingly at a distance.

Others will come into their own only when the storm has passed, helping to safely ease restrictions, and catch up on meeting no less important needs that have been deferred at the peak of the pandemic.

We talk about a marathon not a sprint, but really this is more of a relay race made up of multiple marathons. Some will end up running their lap, taking a break, and then going back for another go around the course.

I sense we’ll keep clapping for some time to come.

And then, as Sarah, our CEO, said in an interview, ‘It’s going to be a really different NHS’ at the end of this. That means a very different world for those of us working at the national centre to support system transformation. A rigorous focus on user needs and digital capability will be more important than ever.

Stay home and have a happy easter, everyone.

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